The very first time I invited Tony for dinner I had cooked Khichuri. Not a first date, but more importantly a first sit-down dinner at home.
‘Chi, chi’ said my mother when I had jokingly disclosed many years after. You don’t want to hear ‘chi chi’ from a Bengali. It is used to express utter disgust. ‘Barite Jamai ke deke khichuri khawali?” (You invited the son-in-law and fed him khichuri?
‘He wasn’t your jamai then, Ma, he was my boyfriend” (jamai = son-in-law)
“Chi, chi!”, I heard again.
Khichuri is what we Bengalis call what the world calls Khichdi and the British calls Kichdee. There are as many variations of the recipe as there are names it is called by. The only constant being the rice and the lentil. As well khichuri means mish-mash or hodgepodge in Bengali language and is often referred to when one is confused.
Khichuri is known to be a poor man’s food as well as an offering to the Gods during many festivals. It has many variations of recipes, influenced by the cuisine of a given region. It is like a porridge, cooked using the staples at home: mainly equal parts rice and dal (red or yellow lentil), with some spices and vegetables added. Simple and nutritious, khichuri is easily available, easily cooked and easily digested. But mostly comforting and perfect for a rainy day, whether in Bengal or here in St. John’s – a foggy day, a snowy day, a homesick day … and it seemed to have been perfect for a dinner date.
I honestly can’t remember the reason behind cooking khichuri that evening. Was it not supposed to be romantic? Somehow a plate of yellow gooey mush of rice and lentils just doesn’t match up to a candlelit dinner. Were there any candles, anyway? Was I testing him; was I sending him a message? It’s been over a decade, and we have been together ever since.
When asked Tony said, ”Khichuri reminds me of you, Debjani”, I don’t know which way … but I know there is love in the mishmash of his interpretation.
- Scented rice: 1 cup ( basmati/jasmine/Thai long grain scented, or any kind of fragrant rice )
- Red Lentil: 1 cup
- Green Peas: ¼ cup
- Potatoes: 2 ( chunky cubed )
- Cauliflower: medium size florets separated
- Tomato: 1 medium sized diced
- Onion: 1 finely sliced
- Chili Powder: ½ tsp
- Turmeric Powder: 1tsp
- Cumin Seeds: 1/2 tsp
- Coriander Powder: 1tsp
- Dry Red Chilli: 1
- Green Chilli: 1 (optional, slit in the middle half way)
- Bay leaves: 1 or 2
- Ginger Paste: 2tablespoons
- Water (hot): 3cups + 1 cup
- Sugar: ½ tsp
- Veg Oil: 3 tbsp
- Ghee: 2tbsp for garnish
- Sugar: 1 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Coriander Leaves: to garnish (optional)
- Lime: wedged (optional)
- Add a pinch of salt to the cut potatoes and cauliflower then lightly fry them separately in 1 tbsp veg oil, about 3 mins in medium heat. Set aside.
- Wash rice and set aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp veg oil, add the whole cumin seeds over medium heat and wait till it starts to release it’s aroma then add the lay leaf and the dry red chilli. To this add the sliced onions and fry on medium heat till it turns translucent. Add ginger paste and lower heat. Fry till it doesn’t stick tot he pot about a min or two.
- Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes till it turns pulpy. Add the turmeric, chilli and the coriander powder and fry over low heat, carefully so not to burn the spices. Add a tsp of water to keep the mixture moist.
- Add the rice and the lentil and the green chilli(optional) and cook for another 3-4 minutes tossing in the spice mixture.
- Add 3 cups of water to this and stir gently. Cover and let come to a boil. Once it starts boiling lower heat and let it simmer.
- Stir once in a while adding to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom and to mix the rice and lentil properly. Add 1/4 cup water each time keep a smooth consistency.
- Add the potatoes and cauliflower to the khichuri when the rice and lentil looks half cooked and stir gently. Add the peas once the potatoes and half cooked. Add sugar and salt to taste.
- Keep cooking by stirring occasionally and adding water little by little till the last cup is exhausted and until the veggies are al dante.
- Take off heat and keep covered. This will cook the vegetables just perfect.
- You can always add more hot boiling water to bring the khichuri to your desired consistency.
- Serve hot with a pat of ghee or browned butter and lime wedges to drizzle as you please.
Khichuri can be served alone or with a multitude of sides such as Papadams, fried eggs,deep fried fish, pakoras, batter fried chills and vegetables to name a few. One of my favourite pictured here is fried pumpkin with coconut.
To make this simply slice pumpkins(or acorn squash) in 1 inch thickness and coat in a pinch of turmeric and salt. Let sit for 20 mins or so. Fry in mustard oil or olive oil one side at a time. Add a 1/2 tsp of sweetened coconut fakes per 4 slices of pumpkin, to the pan and toss with the pumpkin. Fry on low heat as the sweetened coconut burns very easily and quickly. Garnish with extra coconut flakes.